More and more we see games trying to include as much content as possible in the hopes of appealing to a wider market. The problem with this sort of approach is you end up with a game that while it may be good, it isn’t as good as it could have been had the developers known exactly what it was and focused their efforts on that one aspect.
It’s rare these days that a game will try to do just one thing, but do that thing exceptionally well. Horizon Chase Turbo doesn’t fall into that modern gaming industry trap. It is, at its core, a 90’s 16-bit racing game.
What Is It?
Horizon Chase Turbo is the second iteration of the acclaimed mobile racer Horizon Chase that released in the summer of 2015. For all intents and purposes, it is an homage to the 1992 SNES game Top Gear, though with some notable enhancements.
First of these is a vastly increased stable of cars. Only a handful of these are available at the start, but more will unlock as you earn coins by collecting them on the track and winning races. There are no loot boxes, microtransactions, or ads being flung in your face. Yes, Forza, I’m talking to you.
As you progress through the World Tour mode, you’ll travel through many different countries, cities, and locales. It starts off in California and works all the way to Iceland, with the rest of the globe in between. There is no shortage of tracks to race on, each of them with its own setting, layout, and weather conditions. Most tracks also have a variety of surfaces to navigate. Tarmac, sand, dirt, red clay, to name but a few.
Each country has one Bonus Race which will unlock a car upgrade if you place first. You will be able to choose from three upgrades. Each of them includes a boost to Speed, the other boosts are better acceleration, better handling, and better fuel economy. What is this, Hypermiling Simulator?
Not quite, but the last mechanic to carry over from Top Gear is the fuel mechanic. As you race, you will use fuel. It’s possible to replenish your fuel by collecting gas cans that appear on the track. Early on this is not such a big hindrance, but as you get further into the game, managing fuel can be downright vicious. While it is possible to win a race after having run out of fuel (there’s a trophy for doing just that), it’s best to make getting those gas cans a priority.
Why Should I Care?
Aside from the World Tour mode, there are Tournaments where you’ll go through a series of races, earning points towards a championship trophy. There are also Endurance races that will unlock after completing the main World Tour mode. These races will take fuel management to a whole new level.
Finally, there’s the multiplayer mode. The game features online leaderboards for global and friend rankings so you can compete against your friends’ times and ghosts. However, if you want to compete against your friends, you’ll need to ask them to come over and partake of the game’s split-screen mode. I suppose you could possibly use the PS4’s Share Play function to have them over virtually, but it’s harder to elbow them in the side when they cut you off. This really is a game best enjoyed by all players in the same room, preferably with some pizza and beer.
Horizon Chase originally came out on iOS and Android. As a result, Aquiris had to make some design choices that affect gameplay. Let’s get the elephant out of the room right now. There is steering assist present in this game and there is no way to turn it off. The game won’t drive itself, but at times I don’t feel entirely in control of my car. This is not a deal breaker, but it would be nice to have the option to switch it off for an even more authentic 16-bit experience.
Beyond that, there is very little I can find fault with. Enemy cars act like complete jerks, but with practice it’s possible to learn to anticipate how they’ll behave and pace yourself accordingly. Learn this skill quickly, as rear-ending opposing cars slows you down considerably. On the upside, being rear-ended will provide you with a bit of a forward jolt, so on balance the collision mechanics still feel fair.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Aquiris Game Studios call this game “16-bit evolved.” That is really a very accurate way of describing the look and feel of the game. Though everything is 3D, they have done a remarkable job of simulating the feel of a sprite-scaled game. When I was over at a friend’s place back in 1992 and we were playing Top Gear into the wee hours of the morning, in my mind this is what I was imagining what the game looked like. Now I’m seeing what was in my head transferred to the screen and I could not be happier.
There is another very important aspect of Horizon Chase Turbo bears mentioning. It has a soundtrack that feels like Top Gear’s, because it’s composed by Barry Leitch, the very person who composed that music I spent so many hours listening to back then. This time though, he’s taken the memorable melodic elements from that soundtrack and tried to find as many unique ways of incorporating them as possible. The result is pure sonic bliss. Taste in music is subjective, mind you, but it’s hard to listen to this game’s music and not feel like this is the culmination of a composer’s long and storied career.
I said at the start of this review that Horizon Chase Turbo is a game that knows what it is and who it’s for. It’s likely not going to appeal to fans of modern “arcade” racers. What it does do is remind everyone what Arcade racing is supposed to be about. It’s about simple mechanics that can be learned in five minutes, but will take weeks to master its intricacies. It’s about sitting down with friends and connecting. Most importantly, it’s about fun. Horizon Chase Turbo is a lot of fun, and when I’m playing it, I’m back in my happy place. After all, isn’t that why we started playing games to begin with?